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Is there still an ugly American traveler?

The term "Ugly American"gained prominence in popular culture as the title of a 1958 book by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. In 1963, the book was adapted into a film directed by George Englund and featuring Marlon Brando. "Ugly American" became a stereotype portraying Americans as displaying loud, arrogant, self-absorbed, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior abroad. While commonly linked to travelers, the characterization has extended to U.S. corporate businesses operating in the international arena.

As more than 12 million Americans explored Europe last year, the age-old stereotype has seen a resurgence. Recently, a clerk at an airport duty-free shop quipped that Americans can tour Europe, but should then head home. The sheer number of Americans can sometimes feel like a crowd in a confined space, and patience can wear thin.

So what to do? Rick Steves put it this way a few years back: I’ve just completed a 40-year study of “Ugly Americans” in Europe. I’ve concluded two things: If you’re being treated like an Ugly American, it’s because you are one; and (thankfully) Ugly Americans are much rarer now than they used to be. Ugly Americans are not bad people — just ethnocentric. And, being ethnocentric gets you into a vicious downward cycle in your travels: You complain when things aren’t what you think of as proper, so you see fewer smiles and worse service, and you complain even more. You end up going home in a bad mood. Being a considerate and respectful traveler is essential to making a positive impression anywhere, including in Europe.

Rick got it right again. So let's do our fellow Americans a solid and play by a kinder set of rules in 2024. Here are some to start with:

Respect local customs and traditions Research and learn about the local customs and traditions of the country you're visiting. Understanding and respecting these cultural nuances will help you integrate better. Don't Wikisource a trip on Facebook. Get a guidebook, read local authors - learn about local history and cuisine. Don't ever walk off a plane and ask "What do I do?"

Learn basic local phrases Yes many Europeans speak English, but putting in an effort to learn a few basic phrases in the local language can go a long way. Locals appreciate when visitors try to communicate in their language. And be respectful - as in don't say "gracias" in Portugal.

Dress appropriately Be mindful of local dress codes and norms. In some European cities, people tend to dress more formally than in the United States. Avoid overly casual or revealing clothing, especially when visiting religious sites. Be comfortable, but don't stand out as the person in the offensive t-shirt.

Mind your volume Americans are often unfairly stereotyped as loud. So, be conscious of your volume, especially in public places like restaurants or public transportation. Keep conversations at a moderate level to respect the local environment, as in a Fado house.

Tipping etiquette Understand the tipping customs in the country you're visiting. In some European countries, service charges are included in the bill, and tipping may be less common or at a lower percentage than in the United States. To tip without respect of the local ways can cause cultural misunderstandings.

Punctuality Some Europeans generally value punctuality. Be a good guest and arrive on time for appointments, tours, and other scheduled events to show respect for others' time.

Don't complain No, they don't offer a free glass of water. Sure, no one puts ice in a drink. Indeed, they don't have sour cream or half and half. Right, they don't have coffee to go. Yes, a cappuccino is Italian, not Spanish. You got it, you need to ask for the check. Just say "please" and "thank you" and be a good guest..

Cultural sensitivity Be open-minded and avoid making assumptions or generalizations about the local culture. Embrace the differences you encounter and appreciate the diversity Europe has to offer. And don't be critical or judgmental. Just because something seems simple to you, does not mean it is simple in the place you are visiting.

Environmental responsibility Europeans are often environmentally conscious. Often more so than Americans. So, dispose of your waste and recycling properly, follow local recycling practices, and be mindful of your ecological impact. And don't ask for plastic straws, bags or bottles.

Remember, you will enjoy your travels more with an open mind, a willingness to adapt, and a respect for the local ways. By doing so, you'll likely have a more fun and enriching experience in Europe while leaving a positive impression of the US.

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